ABC's news division has a curious relationship with retail giant Walmart. Back in 2005 (Action Alert, 8/10/05), we noted that the network was boosting the company in its reporting while Walmart was a major ABC advertiser, most prominently as the sole sponsor of an "Only in America" series on Good Morning America.
While that kind of close relationship isn't as obvious these days, the network's Walmart boosterism is as clear as ever. On July 8 ABC World News aired a report on Walmart's commitment to creating domestic jobs, linked to a company initiative to buy more products made in the United States–a convenient tie-in to an ABC series on the same theme (Extra!, 5/11).
"Tonight the largest retailer in the country makes news about its promise to spend billions of dollars supporting home-grown companies and American jobs," anchor Diane Sawyer explained.
Reporter Rebecca Jarvis explained that Walmart was inviting US inventors to pitch ideas to the company; the winning ideas might someday be sold in Walmart stores. As Jarvis put it, this was all part of a
new promise from Walmart to spend $250 billion over the next decade on American-made products for their stores. Economists estimating that could create 1 million new jobs in the US.
The "economists" in question would appear to be the Boston Consulting Group, a consulting firm that advises major companies. It's not a stretch to think that Walmart is one of them. So you might want to take those job creation numbers with a grain of salt.
But ABC's newscast looked less like journalism and more like PR–even including footage from a Walmart infomercial and a comment from the company's CEO that this initiative "is not a PR thing."
Jarvis seems aware of the benefits of all of this for the corporation, noting that "after a year of declining US sales and criticism for low wages, Walmart knows this is also good for their image." Indeed.
While the feel-good ABC report touts the company's somewhat sketchy job creation estimates, a more balanced look might include, for instance, some gesture towards the costs of Walmart's low-price, low-wage business model. As the company's critics have noted (MSNBC, 4/15/14), Walmart costs taxpayers "an estimated $6.2 billion in public assistance for low-wage Walmart employees, including programs like food stamps, subsidized housing and Medicaid." One congressional report found that the employees at a single Walmart store in Wisconsin rely on about $1 million a year in public assistance to make ends meet.
Those aren't the sort of numbers ABC is going to tout in its Walmart cheerleading–which leaves the company's many critics off the screen.